Chris Seebach, The Blanton’s director of facility operations and security, recently attended the Smithsonian Institution’s National Conference on Cultural Property Protection in Los Angeles for museum security professionals.
Despite a rough day of travel, a somewhat ironic run-in with airport security and unexpectedly gloomy California weather, he lived to write about the conference for our blog.
This is my sixth national conference, and as I walk into the hotel lobby, I see all the familiar faces of years past. Paisanos! Immediately we start introducing ourselves to new faces and listen to them answer the same question we all did when attending our first conference: “How did you get into the profession of museum security?” A familiar look always falls upon their face and you immediately know exactly what they’re thinking: “Good question … would crazy suffice?”
The first conference session begins with everybody standing up, introducing themselves and the institution they represent. It’s great to know that all the world’s greatest museum security professionals are in attendance, but wait, does that make all the greatest museums that much more vulnerable while they’re all sitting in the same room? After everybody has had their time with the mic, Bob Combs, security director at The J. Paul Getty Trust, begins his year in review speech. This is an hour-long session where he chronicles all the “events” that have taken place at cultural properties around the world. I can honestly say, that if you ever want to comprehend how important your local museum security guard’s job is, please give me an hour of your time.
Sadly, this year was labeled as the year of the rhino. I know, you’re probably thinking, “what in the world does a rhino have to do with museum security?” Well, there have been so many rhino horn thefts throughout the past year that most institutions that have rhino heads in their collection, have replaced the keratin horns with fiberglass or wood replicas. Since most of the horns are stolen for a mythic cure for cancer or an aphrodisiac in most countries, I hope word gets out that fiberglass isn’t going to do much for you if ingested, other than give you a bad cough. At The Blanton, we’ve followed the rhino horn thefts for months, so I was glad to report back to my staff that everybody else was following too.
The main thing this conference reminds me of every year is: If I think nothing will happen, something will surely happen. If I think I can avoid something, something will find me hiding. If I think plan A will work, I better plan on using plan B. When plan B doesn’t work, I better have a plan C.
Cultural property protection is a constant logistical problem that will leave you scratching your head and pondering, “what in the world just happened?” We have to think, plan, plan even more, then think those plans won’t work because risk comes in all shapes and sizes. Some are man-made, some natural, some are accidental, but the ones that are the hardest to prevent, are the intentional! How does this make sense? Well, 88 percent of all museum thefts are from staff members that have access to the museum’s storage area. That leaves roughly 12 percent to brazen robberies. Armed with the knowledge that roughly 60,000 cultural objects will go missing this year alone, I remind myself that I need to stop going to these conferences!
Well, to make a long blog short, some of the other sessions I had the benefit of learning from were:
- Domestic Terrorism and Other Threats
- Natural Disasters: Decision Making & Planning
- FBI Art Crime Team
- Fire Protection: Emerging Technology
- Priceless: The Undercover Rescue of Stolen Treasures
- Safe Heritage in the Netherlands
- Earthquakes: Reducing the Risk at Ground Level
- Detection of Deviant Behavior
- DHS Resources for Cultural Properties
- Security Planning: Establishing the Risk, Sharing the Details
- Security: Finding Balance
- Creating An Effective Disaster and Emergency Response Plan
- TSA Certified Cargo Screening Program
- Strengthening Collections: Space and Security Initiatives
- International Committee on Museum Security (ICOM)
- Designing Innovative and Effective Training Tools
- Google Art Project
- Social Media: Benefits, Risks, and Creative Ways to Protect Your Institution
The National Conference on Cultural Property Protection is a small conference, and it’s intended to be that way. It’s an extraordinary way for any museum security professional, no matter the size of the institution, to interact with other professionals who have already walked through the very same scenario that you are about to step into. All you have to do is ask, and a network of individuals unfolds before you, offering proven solutions. It’s also a world-renowned resource for staying current with various trends, technology and tools; and of course, the camaraderie is priceless. This year was the 35th anniversary, and if you’re new to the field or just plain interested in attending, you can find out more information on their website: www.natconf.si.edu. — Chris Seebach